I’ve searched high and low for one. It’s difficult to locate, to say the least. But I’m still on the case in between hunting for the Loch Ness Monster and the Roswell alien.
This column was updated on Oct. 18, 2019.
Much has been written about the negative qualities of Donald Trump. He’s selfish, narcissistic, arrogant. He’s rude, crass, boorish. He lies more than the average politician or business person.
He calls mostly black pro athletes SOBs and white supremacists very fine people. Most Haitians have AIDS, most Nigerians live in huts, and journalists who don’t kiss his butt are the United States’ biggest enemies. Mexicans who come to the U.S. are criminals and rapists. Canada, Japan, China, and most European countries are bad trade partners. Russia and North Korea are good. John McCain was not a war hero; Trump, who chickened out of going to Vietnam, was. Rosie O’Donnell and Carly Fiorina are ugly. Most overweight women cannot be attractive. And there’s that grab her by the pu$$y thing.
And those are just among the comments that Trump has made in public or during one of his rage Twitterfests, save the last one that was caught when he thought he had a private moment. The “grab her” comment lends clues about worse comments he says in private.
Trump’s most fervent supporters love his frankness and “political incorrectness.” Some of them even wear t-shirts referring to lynching journalists or call Hillary Clinton a “c — ” and worse. Perhaps in some sick, Americana, Jerry Springer Show-way, Trump’s rhetoric has been a little entertaining at times — though mostly disgusting — when he was just a reality TV host or a developer using public funds to erect another private shrine. But don’t even his strongest supporters cringe just a little when the U.S. president refers to an entire nation as “shithole” and calls hurricane victims lazy?
In Trump’s latest bid to be the worst person on the planet, he spent months calling U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings every dirty, juvenile name he could. He claimed Cummings was “racist” and “a brutal bully.” He called his Maryland congressional district, which includes much of Baltimore, “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being” would want to live. He accused Cummings of stealing and mismanaging federal funds. He celebrated when Cummings’ West Baltimore home was burglarized.
Then after Cummings passed away in October from health reasons at the age of 68, Trump turned and acted like none of that happened. He was merely kidding. That’s politics. Trump really admired “the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader,” he claimed in another Tweet from the Twilight Zone.
The hypocrisy would boggle the mind, if you didn’t take into account we’re talking about Trump here.
The president of the United States, irregardless of personal views, should strive to represent as many people as possible. He or she should be mature, conciliatory, and open to all, no matter what their viewpoints, as long as they aren’t pointing a weapon in his face. Even the presidents viewed as the most partisan, such as LBJ, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, generally put aside personal differences when it came to speaking for the interests of the country. They acted like a president, for the most part, though at times that was debatable.
Trump mostly still acts like he is in the middle of an unruly, cheering mob at one of his campaign rallies, which he again was at in Dallas shortly after dancing on Rep. Cummings’ grave. Trump is a middle-school bully who has yet to grow out of that phase. Not even gaining access to the most famous residence in the world has humbled him enough to stop grinding axes.
Journalist regrets ghost-writing Trump book
Tony Schwartz, a New York journalist who ghost-wrote The Art of the Deal for Trump in 1987, laments playing a role in helping catapult him to the White House. He responded to one Twitter question asking if he regretted making Trump appear literate for one thing with, “Deeply. Painfully.”
Schwartz said Trump’s presidency “is now all about mental illness.” His “dangerous & pathological narcissism is getting progressively worse,” and we are “at a rapidly escalating risk as Trump’s grandiosity & paranoia rise inexorably.”
Schwartz’s comments are essentially backed up by 27 psychiatrists and mental health professionals — led by Yale University’s Bandy Lee — who wrote an entire book detailing Trump’s dangerous mental state.
Schwartz met Trump in 1986 after writing a critical story for New York magazine about his attempts to evict rent-control tenants from a building so he could convert it to luxury condos. Trump loved the story even though it portrayed him in a negative light, believing that any publicity was good. [Trump reportedly even frames and prominently displays magazine covers that feature him as negatively as Mad Magazine’s cartoonish version blowing his top.] During another interview, Trump disclosed he landed a book deal, and Schwartz suggested he focus it on deals. So Trump asked Schwartz to write it.
While working on the book, Schwartz said Trump would not answer questions in detail, so he had to sit in the office for hours, listening to Trump’s phone calls to get enough material for the book. Schwartz said he worked hard to “create a picture that didn’t feel so greedy and avaricious as it might otherwise.” Trump saying in the book that “deals are my poetry” was an explicit lie since “of course, he did it for the money,” Schwartz said.
The irony of Trump’s supporters believing that he cares about them is that people are merely expendable products to Trump to be flattered into using them for personal gain. “His notion of how life works is people do what I want them to do, and I get stuff done. And if they don’t do what I want them to do, I want nothing to do with them,” Schwartz said.
Trump exploited fears of supporters who felt powerless to gain the White House. But, as Schwartz and others point out, the policies he has approved will only make most supporters’ lives worse. For instance, the 2017 tax plan mostly benefits higher-income Americans. Those making less than $75,000 annually will pay more in taxes.
Benefit of the doubt
Despite being called the country’s greatest enemies, many journalists who cover the White House still try to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. They don’t want to appear biased, but they end up treating Trump’s behavior as something to analyze on rational grounds, Schwartz noted. “This is entirely a story about a man acting out a severe personality disorder,” he tweeted. “Reporters don’t know how to handle that, so they avoid it.”
As a longtime journalist myself, I know how that situation works. You don’t want to piss off people you cover too much, but you want to report situations accurately and fairly. When people complain, you sometimes bend over backwards to accommodate them. The squeaky wheel often does get the grease, as unfair as that notion may be. Or sometimes, you get tired of the conflict and try to appease people too much. It’s a fine line that journalists walk, one that is often misunderstood.
I’ve written about some fairly disgusting politicians, but even in the worst, I have tried to find something of redeeming value. Nixon, who went so far as to approve a plot to kill journalist Jack Anderson, is probably the closest modern-day president to Trump on the Fear and Loathing scale. And I still see a few redeeming qualities in Nixon, such as how he did his homework and his ability to negotiate complex international treaties.
In Trump, I have yet to discern any redeeming qualities. He doesn’t do his homework; Schwartz said he barely read the Deal manuscript, much less wrote anything. The shows with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un seem more a staged political stunt to divert attention from Trump’s legal problems — or to pave the way for a U.S.-Russia-North Korea alliance — than an honest exercise in international diplomacy.
Some cite Trump’s apparent concern for family members like his son, Barron, as a redeeming quality. But even that appears to be forced. He could spend more time with his youngest son rather than on the golf course. There is the weird comment about how he might date Ivanka if she didn’t happen to be his daughter.
Others offer confidence, thinking big, and being decisive as positive attributes. But when those qualities are used for selfish purposes, can they really be called redeeming? In an essay, Schwartz wrote about only being able to come up with one redeeming quality for Trump: his “relentless drive.” But since Trump uses that “solely in the service of his self-aggrandizement and domination, it scarcely qualifies as a virtue,” he noted.
As we careen from scandal to spurious tweet to impeachment proceedings, afraid to check the news for fear that Trump will do something that will set in motion a chain of events from which we will not recover, I’m still stumped as to finding any positive qualities. I haven’t given up that quest, but the light is growing dimmer.
Maybe we should try doing more of what Schwartz suggests, to pay less attention to Trump, and more to helping those run over by his hell-bent efforts to dismantle anything Obama embraced. May our motto be, “May the worst of Trump inspire the best in us.”
Perhaps in such a campaign, we will finally locate a redeeming quality in Trump — if we still care to do so.